Anthony Mancinelli shook out a barber towel and welcomed the next customer to his chair in Fantastic Cuts, a cheery hair salon in a nondescript strip mall, about an hour’s drive north of New York City.
“Hey, paisan — same as usual,” said John O’Rourke to Mancinelli, who began layering O’Rourke’s hair with his steady, snipping scissors.
“I don’t let anyone else touch my hair,” said O’Rourke, 56, of Cornwall, New York. “The guy’s been cutting hair for a century.”
Actually, O’Rourke was off by three years. Mancinelli is 107 and still working full time, cutting hair five days a week from noon to 8 p.m. He has been working in barbershops since he was 11. Warren Harding was in the White House.
In 2007, at a mere 96 years old, he was recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest working barber. Since then, the commendations have rolled in — from local civic groups, elected officials and barbering companies — all congratulating him: 100 years, 101, 102 and so on.
Mancinelli just keeps outdating the awards.
The salon’s speakers were playing hip-hop on a recent afternoon. “He’s used to the windup record players,” O’Rourke teased.
Mancinelli has a trim build, a steady hand and a full head of hair, albeit snow white. He spends much of his day on his feet, in a pair of worn, cracked black leather shoes.
“People come in and they flip out when they find out how old he is,” said the shop’s owner, Jane Dinezza.
“He never calls in sick,” she said. “I have young people with knee and back problems, but he just keeps going. He can do more haircuts than a 20-year-old kid. They’re sitting there looking at their phones, texting or whatever, and he’s working.”
Asked — for the umpteenth time — about his longevity, Mancinelli offered only that he has always put in a satisfying day’s work and he has never smoked or drank heavily.
But no, longevity does not run in his family, and he was never big on exercise. Dietwise, he said, “I eat thin spaghetti, so I don’t get fat.”
He has all his teeth and is on no daily medication. He has never needed glasses, and his hairstyling hands are still steady.
“I only go to the doctor because people tell me to, but even he can’t understand it,” he said. “I tell him I have no aches, no pains, no nothing. Nothing hurts me.”
One reason he continues to work, he said, is that it helps him stay busy and upbeat after the death of his wife of 70 years, Carmella, 14 years ago. He visits her grave daily before work.
Mancinelli lives alone, not far from the salon in New Windsor. He drives to work, cooks his own meals, watches television — he is a big pro-wrestling fan — and is adamantly self-sufficient. He still trims the bushes in his front yard with no help.
“He won’t even let anyone sweep up his hair clippings,” said his son, Bob Mancinelli, 81, who noted that his father even gives haircuts to himself.
As Dinezza observed, “he shops for himself, does his own laundry, pays his own bills — it’s crazy. He’s just in the right state of mind.”
“You hear about all these people asking, ‘What medicine can I take, what food can I eat, what anti-aging cream should I use?’” she said, “and he’s doing it with none of those things.”
As hairstyles have changed over the decades, Anthony Mancinelli has adapted. “I cut them all,” he said, “long hair, short hair, whatever was in style — the shag, the Buster Brown, straight bangs, permanents.”
Some customers have been coming to him for well over 50 years, having gotten hundreds of haircuts.
“I have some customers, I cut their father, grandfather and great-grandfather — four generations,” said Mancinelli, who has six great-great-grandchildren.
His son said: “Some of his older customers, he helps them in the chair. He’ll say to an 80-year-old guy, ‘Listen, when you get to be my age. …’ They love hearing that.”
Jen Sullivan, a stylist who works the chair next to Anthony Mancinelli, is all of 20.
“It’s just amazing that he still works full time,” she said. “Weekends here can get crazy — even I get tired of being on my feet — but he just keeps going.”
Mancinelli said he was born in 1911 near Naples, Italy, and emigrated with his family when he was 8, joining a relative in Newburgh, New York. He was one of eight children — “I’m the only one left” — and went to work at age 11 in a local barbershop. By age 12, he was cutting hair and dropped out of high school to cut hair full time.
Back then, a haircut cost 25 cents, he said. Now, a haircut from Mancinelli costs $19.
He no longer practices the medical techniques he learned early on from older barbers, such as burning off warts, placing heated glass cups on the torso and using leeches for swelling or high blood pressure.
He does keep in his salon drawer — “for when the electricity goes out” — a pair of manual hair clippers he used before electric hair clippers came into use.
He is the perennial choice for grand marshal of the New Windsor Memorial Day Parade. A World War II Army veteran, Mancinelli has been a proud member, for 75 years, of local American Legion Post 1796, where his drink of choice is a whiskey sour.
For Mancinelli’s birthdays, the salon closes and gives a party, with food donated by the local supermarket. But most days are routine, interrupted by the occasional media inquiry seeking out this centenarian barber.
The write-ups have attracted curious people from all over the world for haircuts. Actor Ben Gazzara came up 10 years ago from Manhattan for a haircut, on the advice of a friend, Mancinelli said.
Dinezza hired Mancinelli several years ago after another local shop cut back his hours. Her receptionist initially disregarded his application because of his age, but Mancinelli applied again, and impressed Dinezza with his cutting ability.
“Now, I feel like I’m working for him,” she said. “I get a million and one phone calls from people all over the world who have heard about him and want to visit.”
Next up in his chair was another regular, Joe Murphy, 46. He recalled getting a haircut on Mancinelli’s 100th birthday at his previous shop. (This reporter decided to take a bit off the sides as well.)
“The guys in the shop wanted to take him to a girlie joint for his birthday,” Murphy recalled, as the 107-year-old barber toweled his neck clean. “But Anthony said, ‘No way — what are you trying to do, kill me?’”
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